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'Caramel' is a sugar rush

In some ways, this glossily enjoyable movie, which takes place in a Lebanese beauty parlor, is a lot closer to Hollywood than Beirut.

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"Caramel" is one of the more improbable movies to come around in a while – a Lebanese comedy/drama set in a beauty salon. Even more improbable, it was written and directed by (and stars) a Lebanese woman, Nadine Labaki.

In some ways, this glossily enjoyable movie is a lot closer to Hollywood than Beirut. At times, I thought I was watching some oddball Lebanese variant on "Barbershop." You'd (almost) never know from this film that Lebanon is in political turmoil – which I suppose is Labaki's point. She's offering up sudsy escapism for audiences hungering for fantasy.

The film follows the highs and lows of five women: Nisrine (Yasmine Elmasri), who is about to marry a conservative Muslim but worries because she is not a virgin; Rose (Sihame Haddad), a seamstress who avoids the attentions of a debonair suitor in order to care for her older sister; Rima (Joanna Moukarzel), a mousy salon assistant who finds herself attracted to a glamorous female client in the salon; Jamale (Gisele Aouad), an aging actress; and Layale (Labaki), who owns the salon and is having an affair with a married man.

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